Postcards

Every time I write a post I think I will update my blog more frequently. Of course it does not actually happen. I have actually been getting a little work done, and by “work” I mean out shooting and printing, though I have not made any new prints in a couple of weeks. What I have been doing is making postcards.

I signed up for the APUG postcard exchange, which is just that–a list of folks who print up some postcards and mail them to each other. I’ve got 47 cards to make, of which I have finished 39. I ran out of postcard paper before finishing. I use the Ilford postcard paper, which is cut to 3.5 x 5.5″, and has the postcard markings on the back. It’s not required, but it’s convenient. Anything that the USPS will accept as a postcard will do.

Since printing 47 copies of the same image sounded a bit too tedious, I chose to do a few different ones. I took it as an opportunity to revisit some negatives I had that hadn’t come out quite as well as I’d hoped to see if I couldn’t make something better out of them by recropping.

Canal Street signage, NYC

Lawn idol with flowers, Somerville, Mass.

Moving van, Cambridge, Mass.

Williams Candy store, Somerville, Mass. Sadly, this has been torn down and replaced by a condo building.

 

A Shot in the Dark

I made a perfect picture tonight but no one will get to see it. I was out shooting with my Koni-Omega, with two backs, one loaded with Fuji 400H and the other with Acros. I was walking around the neighborhood, starting with the 400H. I ended up over by the river just at sunset, and there was a nice glow on the water under the Longfellow bridge, so I took a couple of shots there, one on each side. Then I walked around over to the MIT campus, thinking I might see something to do with the Stata Center, the Frank Gehry monstrosity that replaced the legendary Building 20.

So I’m looking around the backside, and a security guard walking by asks me if I was getting any good pictures. I said, eh, and he started going on about the moon and how it would nice to have a picture of the moon with the trees there. Now this in itself is sort of an odd response; normal security guard procedure is to hassle anyone with a camera. But this guy actually offers to let me in and find a good place to shoot from. As we’re heading to the door, I see a good shot. There’s a sort of round chrome structure with a pylonish thing behind it, and the moon is over them. It’s getting dark but there’s nice reflections from the chrome. So I decide to set up right there.

Now comes the fatal mistake. I decide to switch backs. Acros is good for long exposures, hardly any reciprocity failure. The guy is chatting about how he’d taken this nice panoramic sunset photo with his cell phone, and was surprised at how good it came out. I’ve got my tripod with me, explaining to the guy that the camera is old and requires some mechanical operation, but meanwhile I’ve skipped one key step. After switching the backs, I forget to pull the dark slide.

Now, as long as there have been cameras with dark slides, there have been photographers forgetting to pull them out. One of the reasons I like to use mechanical nonautomated equipment is that I have to rely on my brain, to make all the decisions about how the shot is going to come out. The downside to this is that I have to rely on my brain, to remember all the steps. As my wife knows, I’m especially prone to being distracted if I’m trying to do something while someone is talking to me. So Mr. Chatty is not actually doing me any favors here.

When I make a mistake like this I tend to curse a lot. It annoys me. I go and walk around for a couple of hours and come back with less than I’d set out to. Hardly a crisis, and neither the first or last time I’ll do something like that. Shoot without film in the camera? Done that. Switch the fixer and developer in the tank? Yep. Hit the light switch before shutting the box of paper? Check. And on and on. The only consolation I have in this case is that the K-O is supposed to have a interlock the prevents the shutter firing if the dark slide is in place (the designers knew about people like me 50 years ago). It would seem that this is not completely failsafe. If the dark slide is out even a tiny bit, it doesn’t lock.

Maybe I need to make a checklist and tape it to my camera bag. I mean, if checklists can work for pilots and doctors and nurses, in situations that really matter, then surely the help me avoid stupid errors. I know we’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, but I don’t necessarily want to have that sort of learning experience every time I go out.

 

Waiting for Kodot

Just before Christmas I sent off my last four rolls of Kodachrome to Dwayne’s for processing. If you are one of the exceedingly tiny percentage of the population who cares about such things then you may be aware that last week was the deadline for Dwayne’s to accept orders for Kodachrome processing. When Kodak officially discontinued the film, they also stopped making the chemistry to process it, leaving Dwayne’s with a year’s supply.

What this meant was that everyone who had any rushed to use up whatever they were holding and get it to Kansas. I’d been using it up about one roll a month or so, and I held the last four because the return postage is cheaper than sending them one at a time. I sent mine in by express mail, thinking of the deadline and the holidays. I’d hoped that by now I’d have a post up about those last rolls, but I’m still waiting. In the past, I’d get my order back in about a week, including transit time to and from Parsons. But by Christmas there was already 10-day backlog at Dwayne’s.

This is a little nerve-wracking, since once the existing chemical stock is exhausted, there is no more. If some of the film doesn’t get processed now, it never will, at least not in color (it can be done as black & white). As I write this, a week after the deadline, a photographer at Dwayne’s is reporting that they still have another 10,000 rolls to go, but it looks like the chemistry will hold out.

I’ll be sad to see Kodachrome go, but not completely crushed. There really is nothing like it, but today the remaining color negative and slide films are very good. In Kodachrome’s heyday nothing else was even close. And of course, the film I used to like, Kodachrome 25, has been gone for some years now. I don’t even get the film in slide mounts any more. No projector. I’m either going to view them on a light box or put them in the scanner. So it’s easier to just get uncut rolls back. That’s just the way it’s going to be from now on, more and more of our favorite films being discontinued until all that’s left is Tri-X. Or maybe Adox.

Polaroid on Kodachrome:

 

 

 

Early Work

Speaking of old photos saved for no particular reason, there is also this. I suppose I can’t complain too much about my grandmother’s placing a bad photo in the album, since I myself have kept practically every picture I’ve ever taken. In response to a post on APUG, I pulled out the bag I keep some of my early work in to see if I could identify the oldest photo I still have.

At this point it would be impossible to determine with certainty. I first got interested in photography in summer camp. One of the first cameras I got to use was an Argus C3, presumably because even then you could likely find them used for free or cheap (if you go to a flea market or antique store today, there’s a good chance you’ll see one or two of these). I know that some people actually like them, but it’s a terrible choice for a small child, heavy and difficult to operate. I remember that the rangefinder dial was hard to turn.

Later, when my dad got his Nikon (which I still have), he gave me his Agfa Silette (which I also still have). The Silette has no meter or rangefinder, so I practiced guessing distances and set exposures by the information sheets that came with the film. I was about nine when I got the Silette. A variety of cameras came and went in those days. I recall also having a couple of 110 cameras—a Kodak Pocket 10 and a 20 (which I no longer have). Heck, sometimes a camera wasn’t even needed. A scrap of an old film strip could be made into a picture:

So now I have this pile of prints and negatives I made in the early-to-mid seventies. The photo at the top is probably one of the earliest that I still have. The negative is gone, and as you can clearly see, I hadn’t quite got the hang of lining the easel up straight under the enlarger. I think the kid in the photo was named Nina. I think she was older than me. That’s about all I can remember about that. There are other pictures in the pile that are even more mysterious to me.

Actually, they aren’t completely mysterious. I can remember where most of them were taken, and could probably sort them into a rough time order. Names of people are mostly lost. I have a fairly tenuous connection to my former self. Later years, from, say, junior high-school onward, are clearer, but most of grade school is a blur. I’ve heard it said that when we get old and senile, early memories get clearer, and the later ones start to fade. So maybe I should hang on to these photos, and I might eventually get them back.

A message from history

Recently I took possession of an album of family photos, from my father’s side of the family. It’s always sort of weird to look at old family photos. There’s the people you only knew when they were old, and in the photos they are young. Photos of people who died long before you were born. Photos of people with people you know, and you have no idea who they are, and there’s no one around who remembers. The pictures of people in the 1960s and 70s, and you can no longer believe that people ever thought it was a good idea to dress that way. The oldest ones are the best, in some ways, taken in the days when cameras were still not common and posing for a portrait was a special occasion. Later, more people had their own and they became much more casual with their use. But the idea of taking lots and lots of pictures and just keeping the good ones was still far away. Clearly, at least some people, by which I mean my relatives, had the notion that you had to keep everything, no matter what. Like this photo. Someone, probably my grandmother (but I can’t be certain), taped this down into the album, and did not think, this picture is no good, I should just throw it away.

So I wonder, who is this guy? Where is his head? Who are the women at the top of the stairs? The kid at the bottom might be my father. This might be Dorchester in 1947. But apparently the photographer couldn’t decide who to aim at, so decided to split the difference, and also the necks. It is sometimes said that one of the differences between traditional and digital photography is that the archival quality of digital is unproven. Will you or your descendants be able to find and/or read your files in sixty years? On the other hand, your descendants will be spared these enigmas. No one will laugh at your clothes or hairstyle. Does it really matter if the photos are saved, but the meaning is not?

The photo does have a nice sort of surreal quality to it, a guy with no head and a kid with no body. Maybe they go together? Perhaps my grandmother thought this was funny. It was unlikely the intent of the person with the camera, but sometimes that’s the best way.

 

 

 

 

First Dark

A year and a half after our move, I’ve managed to get my darkroom back together and operational again. The darkroom is basically half of the room I use as my home office. I had most of the stuff I needed already, as I’d been printing in our old apartment. In that room, the enlarger sat on my desk, and I wanted to put it on its own stand so I could actually use my desk for work. After a little hunting around I found a small cabinet that would make a suitable stand and give me a little extra storage. I can keep paper, film, and other supplies in there. My enlarger is an Omega D5-XL, a big beast. So I really wanted to be sure the cabinet would hold it.

In the apartment, I blacked out the windows with blackout plastic and gaffer’s tape. This worked okay, but the tape tended to come off when I didn’t want it to and not when I did. Getting a good seal around the windows was difficult, and then opening the windows after was a pain, too. For my new office, I made inserts for the windows out of black foam-core art board and blackout cloth. These can be slipped into the window frames without being attached to the window. The light seal is actually better than what I had before. The system still needs to be tweaked a bit, but it basically works the way I wanted it to. When I want to print, all I need to do is pour out the chemicals, then wash up the trays when I’m done.

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of taking a camera with me when I am out on my bike. This has meant rejiggering the collection a bit, as the Nikons have proven to be something of a load. I use a sling pack, and having something more lightweight in there would be a good thing. I sold off a couple of pieces of large-format gear I wasn’t getting much use out of and got an Olympus OM-1N, as well as an old Konica III rangefinder. The Olympus is half the weight of one of the Nikons. I also finally got around to having my Koni-Omega serviced. I’ll need to rig up a padded carrier if I want to take that; it’s way too big for the backpack.

The first prints I made were from the first roll I put through the Konica. Ilford FP4+ film. I had it CLA’d by Greg Weber along with the K-O, and when he sent it back to me he told me it would become my favorite camera. I can see what he means. It’s a bit quirky, but in a fun way. It was designed in the 1950s to be a relatively low-priced competitor to the Leica. In 1958, this camera cost $120, whereas at the time a Leica would have been $400-500. The build and optics are first-rate; the cost savings came mainly from it being a fixed-lens camera.

The main problem with shooting while out riding is that sometimes I lose track of exactly where I was when any given picture was taken. This is somewhere out along the Charles River, a spillway for fish to get through the dam. Newton? Watertown? I’m not exactly sure.

Kittenpalooza

A few months ago, we had to have our cat put to sleep. I’d had him for about 15 years, and he’d had various health issues, but in the end it was cancer that got him. It was pretty traumatic, because he’d been a good companion, especially through some fairly depressing times when there were days it seemed my only reason to get up in the morning and go to work was so that I could continue to buy cat food.

I’ve lived with cats more years than not in my life, and this was the first time in more than 20 years we’d been really cat-free. It was inevitable that we would get another cat, but for a while it was hard to even think about it. Eventually the desire for another cat began to outweigh the melancholy. What turned the tide was a practical concern: we discovered that we were being visited by a mouse.

The mouse was coming in and out though the stove top. I saw it coming up through the grates around the burners. Under the stove top is a large, mostly empty space, with a vent in the back that the mouse could get in and out through. We presume he was going down the back and possibly into the basement. I haven’t yet found any signs of an actual mouse nest, but we can’t move the oven—it’s a massive six-burner Wolf range that probably weighs as much as three ordinary ovens (you can see it in this post).

In fact, we think the mouse has been there for a while—before our cat died, he’d taken to hopping up on top of the oven and walking around on the stove, which seemed kind of odd behavior. Of course, as long as the cat was around, we never actually saw the mouse. The mouse was, like a certain former dictator, “contained.”

Which brings up to the last weekend, when the MSPCA adoption center was having a “kitten adopt-a-thon.” All of the kittens they had out in foster homes would brought to the center, and people looking to adopt lined up to see them. It was kind of an odd set up. The cats were all in cages with name tags, and when someone found a cat they wanted, they took the name tag to claim them. People were let into the room about ten at a time, to help keep the kittens from being too overwhelmed. There were about 50 kittens, and they were all really cute. The event was scheduled for four hours, but all of the kittens were claimed in an hour. A few of the kittens were in litters with the mother. We had considered before we went over that we might try to adopt a kitten and the mother together, and it worked out that indeed there was a pair we could take together. So now we have Ida and Sam:

And it has turned out to be a good thing that we did. Sam is very playful but skittish, and he’s clearly adjusting to is new home a lot faster because his mom is here. And Ida is very sweet. And that mouse’s days are numbered.